Change is afoot in the EDGE District
Long before Downtown St. Pete’s EDGE District got its moniker, it was actually kind of edgy, and not in a good way.
“Five years ago, you would not have gotten out of your car,” says Patty Miles, a clerk at the Plain Jane boutique.
Commerce wasn’t exactly booming, either.
“You could roll a bowling ball down Central Avenue and not hit anything after 7 o’clock,” says Mark “Ferg” Ferguson, owner of Ferg’s Sports Bar, a staple of the neighborhood for going on 26 years. “Now,” he says, “you have to look both ways.”
There’s a lot to see. Restaurants, shops and apartment complexes have been popping up all around the district, which comprises Central Avenue between 9th and 16th streets bordered by 1st Avenues north and south.
A busy block on the EDGE
For example, consider the block between 11thand 13th streets (12thdoes not cross through the district). On the same side of Central as Plain Jane are the busy LGBTQ+ club Enigma; the shiny, revamped Central Arcade; the mega-popular Bodega on Central, with its award-winning Cubans; Rick’s Electronics Boutique, a trove of home entertainment knowhow; and the stylish home furnishings oasis Mis en Chic.
Just across the street is Intermezzo, home to sophisticated cocktails and five-star oysters. A few steps away on Baum Avenue is the pioneering Green Bench Brewing Co., which arguably jump-started the popularity of the EDGE when the brewery opened in 2013, and Red Mesa’s easy, breezy burritos-and-more emporium, Red Mesa Mercado.
Farther up Central is the Mid-Century Modern mecca Furnish Me Vintage across from Hawkers Asian Street Fare. (Be sure to get the roti canai.)
And that’s only one block!
EDGE: Going to the dogs
The business consortium had once been hopefully deemed the Dome District Business Association in anticipation of a Trop-driven boom that never happened. It took on its new identity in 2011 — the EDGE acronym standing, aptly enough, for Entertainment/Dining/Galleries & Shops/Etcetera.
Barbara Voglewede came on board as executive director in 2014. A former law professor and corporate litigator with a quietly determined get-’er-done attitude, she has worked closely with city and state agencies as well as neighborhood businesses to create a unified vision for the area. She’s also encouraged awareness of its history; check out edgedistrict.org for some illuminating factoids (like, for instance, the fact that scruffy little Baum was once St. Pete’s main drag).
The biggest change yet to come is the completion of the Bainbridge Companies’ six-floor, 218-unit 930 Central Flats. (October? December? We’ve heard both.) With another apartment complex getting underway at 16thand Central, loft apartments in the works a block over on 1stAve. N., and the 15-story Icon Central apartments going up just east of the district, “Ferg” realized it was high time for him to build… a dog park.
Seventy-five percent of these future apartment dwellers will have “at least one or two dogs,” he predicts. “So I thought it was time to take the step.”
It used to be the EDGE of oblivion
Leslie Curran, the owner of ARTicles Art Gallery, recalls how dead this stretch of Central was in 2004 when she first opened her business (then called Interior Motives) in the space where Enigma is now.
“There was nothing.”
She moved about six years ago to her present location at 1445 Central, and says a major turning point for the neighborhood was the opening of Fusion 1560, the district’s second big apartment complex after 1010 Central.
“I remember the day we saw a couple with a baby stroller with a baby in it — not groceries,” she says. “We went out and asked if they were looking for something.”
“No,” they answered, “we just moved into the neighborhood.”
Man on the EDGE
The ubiquitous developer Jonathan Daou of Eastman Equity owns a swath of properties in the district — including much of the busy 11th-13th stretch described above — and deserves credit for rehabbing historic structures and powering the EDGE resurgence.
“By having a controlling interest in the neighborhood,” says Daou, “we managed to curate it and accelerate faster than what organic growth would have been.”
With change come complications, of course — and rent hikes. Daou purchased the Central Arcade when the building was home to Creative Clay, an arts organization providing opportunities to people with disabilities and an anchor in the neighborhood since 2004, responsible for such cool-making events as Folkfest St. Pete. But in June 2017, the nonprofit moved out of the ’hood to the Grand Central District after Daou doubled the rent to $8,800 a month.
Creative Clay Executive Director Kim Dohrman misses the foot traffic in the EDGE location, but she’s not bitter.
“I really do understand,” she says, and acknowledges the appeal of what Daou has done with the Arcade, turning Creative Clay’s former office spaces into pocket shops for EDGE veterans like Milagros (a purveyor of handmade soaps) and newer arrivals like Adorn & Co (a high-end jeweler happy to have moved from its former location at the Flamingo Resort in the Skyway Marina District).
And you can’t argue with the math: Daou now has 11 tenants in the building, bringing in $12,000 in total rent.
City Hall on the EDGE (for a while, at least)
Another big change in the works:
Because of long-needed renovations in St. Pete’s City Hall, Mayor Rick Kriseman is shifting most of its operations into the old police station across from Ferg’s for approximately six months starting in early 2019. City Council will meet at the Sunshine Center during that time.
Once the upgrades are done in City Hall, the police station will be demolished and the city will send out an RFP. According to Barbara Voglewede, the district has been assured that anything built in that space will include 200 public parking spaces.
A walk along the EDGE
Whatever happens in the future, a stroll up Central these days is an immersion in New Urbanism: small independent businesses, attractive streetscape, easy walkability (though watch out for the construction).
Recently, I took just such a stroll and found a new ice cream spot, Sweet Charlie’s, which converted me to the rolled concept (ask owner Lisa Terefenko for a demo), and discovered the charmingly quirky plant store Urban Roots on Central, specializing in succulents and smiles from owners Jack Brickman and Chuck Thomas, a couple who live and work in the ’hood.
I was already a fan of such stalwarts as Room 901, downtown St. Pete’s best cocktail bar; Brooklyn South, the place for killer deli and fine cheeses; Buya (oh, that short rib ramen!); the Independent (for craft beer and sympathy); and over on 1st Avenue N., the best burger joint in town, Engine No. 9; the longtime favorite breakfast-and-lunch spot Cafe 10-0-One; and the hip-without-trying-too-hard hangout The Bends.
And looming on the horizon, causing mouths to water: Dr. BBQ (from the owners of Datz) is slated to open soon at 1stAve. S. and 11th. Steve Schrutt, owner of the late, lamented Kings Street Food Counter, is repopulating the 937 Central Space with No Vacancy, a restau-bar with “Florida motel vibes.” And keep your eyes out for another Jonathan Daou project: he’s got visions of a hotel at 1stAve. N. and 11th.
Living on the EDGE
I could go on, but you get the point: Living on the EDGE is not what it used to be. And that’s a good thing.